I have an advanced degree in counseling and hundreds of hours experience working with couples. I've taught marriage retreats for years.
I wouldn't say I'm an "expert" in marriage—because I'm married—and my wife reads my blog. That would be a stretch. Actually, I know more to do than I have the practice of doing. (Isn't that true for most of us?)
But, I've learned a few things. I've observed things that work and things that don't.
I think there are some necessary ingredients for a healthy marriage. That's the point of this post.
Do you want a healthier marriage? Consider these 7 commandments of marriage:
1. Thou shalt serve one another. A good marriage practices mutual submission. Ephesians 5:21 commands us to submit to one another out of reverence to Christ. Marriage is not a 50/50 deal. It's a 100/100 deal—each willing to surrender all to the other person.
How are you at serving your spouse? Would they say you strive to serve them more everyday? Are you more the giver or the taker in the relationship? Be honest.
2. Thou shalt love unconditionally. Unconditionally means without conditions. (See how deep this blog can be.) I'll love you if ... is not the command. It's I'll love you even if not. God commands us to love our enemies. How much more should this commitment be strong within a` marriage?
Are you loving your spouse even with the flaws that you can see better than anyone else? Here's a quick test: Does the way you communicate with your spouse indicate you have the highest regard for them—always?
3. Thou shalt respect one another. The Golden Rule covers this one. Everyone wants to be respected—so in any good marriage respect is granted to and by both parties. And, by the way, I believe respect too is to be unconditional.
In my experience, this one is sometimes easier for one spouse to give than the other, especially the one who works hardest in the marriage. Respect is mostly given because of actions. But respect is important for both spouses. Most people grant respect only when all conditions are met to be respected. That makes sense, but it doesn't provide motivation to improve when the other party needs it most. All of us need someone who believes in us even when we don't believe in ourselves. That's the grace of respect. When most of us feel respected we will work harder to keep that respect.
4. Thou shalt put no other earthly relationships before this one. "Let not man put asunder" is not just a good King James Version wedding line. It's God's desire for a marriage. Great couples strive to allow no one—even children—even in-laws—to get in the way of building a healthy marriage.
Wow! Isn't this a hard one? Yet, I can't tell you how many marriages I have seen ruined because the children came first or the in-laws interfered. I've seen marriages ruined by friends—sometimes co-workers—who had little regard for the integrity of the marriage, and so they built a wedge between the couple. As hard as it is sometimes, great couples work to protect the marriage from every outside interruption.
5. Thou shalt commit beyond feelings. The Bible talks a great deal about the renewal of our mind. (Romans 12:2 for example.) The mind is more reliable than emotions. You may not always feel as in love as you did the day you married. There will be tough seasons in any marriage. Strong marriages last because they have a commitment beyond their emotional response to each other. And, when that's true for both parties, feelings almost always reciprocate and grow over time.
As true and necessary as this is, great marriages continue to pursue each other—they date one another—fostering the romantic feelings that everyone craves in a relationship. Sobering question: When is the last time you pursued your spouse?
6. Thou shalt consider the other person's interest ahead of thine own. Again, we are commanded to to do this in all relationships. How much more should we in marriage?
Over the years, as couples get comfortable with one another, I've observed couples who become very selfish with their individual time. Sometimes, for example, one spouse pursues a hobby that excludes the other one, and more and more time is committed to that hobby. The other spouse begins to feel neglected. It may be allocation of time, in actions or the words used to communicate, but sometimes a spouse can make the other spouse feel they are no longer valuable to them. Are you considering how you are being perceived by your spouse?
7. Thou shalt complete one another. The Biblical command is one flesh. (Ephesians 5) I'm not sure that's anymore possible than the command that our individual flesh be molded into the image of Christ. It's a command we obey in process. We are saints still under construction. We still sin. And, that process isn't completed here on earth in my opinion. So it is in a marriage. We never completely "get there", but we set such a high standard for our marriage that we continue to press towards the goal.
There is no better place where "iron sharpens iron" than in a marriage. Cheryl makes me a better person. And, if I can be so bold—I think I do the same for her. There are qualities in her I need and qualities in me she needs to become one flesh. But, that's a process. That takes time, humility and intentionality. I must allow her to make me better—and likewise for her. But, when we do, we are both the benefactors. One question I always ask couples: Are you becoming closer as a couple—or are you drifting further apart?
That's a great question to ask frequently throughout the marriage.
These are obviously not the "10 Commandments." They aren't even necessarily God's commandments—although I do believe they are based on the commands of God. The point is to take Biblical principles and apply them to our marriage.
What marriage wouldn't benefit from that?
Ron Edmondson is the senior pastor at Immanuel Baptist Church in Lexington, Kentucky. For the original article, visit ronedmondson.com.